PM may accept 'some form' of Arab initiative

Netanyahu to tell Obama he's willing to soften on Palestinians in exchange for help on Iranian front.

bibi netanyahu 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
bibi netanyahu 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu plans to tell US President Barack Obama that Israel will accept "some form" of the Arab Peace Initiative, The Jerusalem Post has learned. According to sources close to the policy review being undertaken by the new government, Israel will compromise on the Palestinian issue to obtain more direct and aggressive US assistance on the Iranian front. It is not known if such help includes logistical support for Israeli strikes in the case of a military confrontation with Teheran. The Arab Peace Initiative was presented by Saudi King Abdullah in 2002. It calls for normalizing relations between Arab states and Israel in exchange for a total Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 armistice lines and a "just solution" to the Palestinian demand for the return of refugees from the War of Independence. While left-leaning politicians have expressed guarded optimism about the proposal, leaders of the Right have been skeptical about its sincerity. If Netanyahu indeed invokes the Arab Peace Initiative in his May 18 meeting with Obama in Washington, it would mark a major diplomatic concession for a Likud-Israel Beiteinu government. But a senior Israeli official familiar with the issue told the Post on Wednesday that such a move would be more form than substance, since Israel has been in agreement with "some parts" of the initiative for years. "President Peres has called the Arab initiative 'important' and [former] prime minister [Ehud] Olmert has said it has 'positive elements,'" the official noted. But the acceptance of "some parts" of the plan doesn't mean Israel has accepted it as a whole, the senior official added. "The main problem is the demand for [the return of] refugees. The plan calls for a 'just solution' according to [1948 UN General Assembly] Resolution 194," which calls for refugees "wishing to return to their homes and live at peace" to be "permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date." According to the official, "Israel has a problem with the term 'just,' which among Arab diplomats can just as easily be a reference to Israel's removal as it can be a call for compromise. Should Israel accept into the country thousands or hundreds of thousands of Lebanese and Jordanians? It's a black hole with no end. It is a red line we will never step over." According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levy, "The Israeli position is known. When we talk about the return of refugees to their homes, the intention is not their personal home, which is impossible in either direction, but to their national home" - a possible future state. "Then there is something to talk about." A similar principle applied to the Jewish right of return to Israel, Levy noted. The Jews have a right of return to the State of Israel, not to the homes from which Jews were expelled in other countries. Also on Wednesday, a Foreign Ministry official said Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was expected to make his first official trip abroad next week. His five-day trip will include meetings with counterparts Franco Frattini in Rome, Bernard Kouchner in Paris and Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Berlin. He is also slated to visit the Czech Republic, which holds the EU Presidency until June. The meetings will be conducted in the midst of tension between Israel and the European Union due to the efforts by EU officials to freeze an upgrade in bilateral relations until the peace process with the Palestinians moves forward. The meetings are expected to focus on introducing the new foreign minister to his European counterparts, rather than on serious policy matters. The government is still in the midst of a monthlong policy review process, so its foreign policy has not yet crystallized.